LentIf any of you want to give up something for Lent, by all means go ahead and do so. I won’t think less or more of you for observing the practice. And I highly suspect few if any of you reading this really care whether I give up anything for Lent or not. That’s fine, too. Still, I’m going to explain why I won’t be doing anything different for the 40-day period know as Lent.

First, for those unfamiliar with the tradition, Lent is the period in the Christian liturgical calendar which commemorates Jesus’ 40-day period in the wilderness when he fasted and was tempted by Satan. Some church traditions (although not all and usually not churches in my Southern Baptist tradition) celebrate Lent by having individuals give up something or spend more time in prayer and fasting or performing good works for others in ways not normally a part of the person’s daily life. What is sacrificed for Lent runs the gamut if my Facebook news feed is any indication – caffeine, meat, chocolate, coffee, soft drinks, even Facebook or the Internet. Some churches have Ash Wednesday services to begin the observance, and participants in those services may leave with a cross of ashes on their foreheads.

I have nothing against liturgical calendars or centuries-old traditions. I value fasting (but rarely do it) and prayer (which I do throughout every day) and doing good works for the benefit of others (which I hope I do often, though probably not often enough). I don’t care, however, for the thought of walking around with a cross of ashes on my forehead because it seems like a giant “look at me” sign that would make me too self-conscious, but if others choose to do so and their motives are pure, then more power to them.

I haven’t felt the need to sacrifice anything for this 40-day Lenten period. Why? A few thoughts come to mind:

  • First, if giving up “X” brings you closer to God for 40 days, then you probably ought to give it up permanently. If caffeine or chocolate or Facebook or anything else seems to come between you and God the other 325 days of the year, then why would you not give it up permanently instead of just for 40 days? The Christian life of sanctification – growing in holiness – is one of perpetual growth this side of heaven, and doing something for such a short term that presumably helps your walk with God seems antithetical to a desire for continuous growth. “Well, God, I’m going to draw close to you for these 40 days, but after that you’ll just have to wait until Ash Wednesday next year to get my serious attention.” Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? And if you believe as I do that we don’t impress or earn favor with God by mere acts of temporary sacrifice, then a change in behavior for only 40 days doesn’t have much lasting effect personally or eternally.
  • Second, I don’t need to re-live an annual liturgical calendar to experience my faith. Christianity at its heart is a personal relationship with and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is a relationship that defines who one is every moment of his/her life. It is the basis for how I see and interpret and respond to the world around me. It is who I am at the core of my very being even though I fail to live up to the example of my Lord (see previous point on sanctification). If my faith was about religion – external things I do related to what I believe – then observing Lent would make more sense (maybe), but if my faith is about a relationship with the living Lord, then it’s primarily about the heart and an ongoing surrender to the lordship of Christ which plays out in a changed life. That is of far greater significance than can ever be expressed by doing without something I enjoy for 40 days, and it is something that needs to happen every day of the year.
  • Lastly, I know how the story ends. I know that Jesus overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. I know He was crucified, dead and buried. I know He was raised from the dead and reigns forever and will come again one day to bring judgment to all the earth and to usher in His eternal kingdom. And I know I’m one of His children who will be with Him in that kingdom. I don’t need to mourn because He has saved me. I don’t need to temporarily sacrifice because the ultimate sacrifice has already been made by Him on my behalf. I choose not to re-live the part of history or church calendars pretending the end is unknown because His word declares His victory as accomplished and available to be shared by all who repent of their sins and surrender their lives to Him. I can rejoice and enjoy all that He provides in this life because, as one song says, “We win, we win, hallelujah we win; I’ve looked at the back of The Book and we win!”

Yes, there are times when I hide away for a few days in a quiet place for extended times of prayer, study and reflection. Yes, I am all for living life simply as evidenced by one of my goals for 2015 to end the year with less than I started it with in terms of material possessions. Yes, I support the practice of fasting if one chooses to do so to spend more time in prayer and communing with God. But this Lenten season I’ll just continue the path that is for me an unending one of daily spending time in His word, in praying throughout the day as a way of life talking with the One who is closer than a brother to me, and in pursuit of a life of obedience and growth that won’t end this side of heaven – certainly not in 40 days.

The point of this post is not to criticize those who treat Lent differently than I do. You have my respect and support if it draws you closer to God. My point is to promote the idea of celebrating life in Christ and continually growing in relationship and obedience to Him regardless of the season. I choose to focus on the victory already won and the grace given through that victory.

May this be a meaningful Lenten season for you – not because you give up something, but because whether you give up something or not you draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ who gave up everything on the cross so that you might experience eternal life in Him.

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A few other related articles:

 

ApologeticsStudyBibleI finished reading trough The Apologetics Study Bible earlier this week and want to write a bit about the experience. It has been my practice for nearly four decades to read through a different translation, version or edition of the Bible every 1-3 years. I haven’t kept track, but I’m guessing I’ve done it now somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 times since college. My preference is for study Bibles because of the wealth of notes and supplemental articles provided. There is value in exposing oneself to as many translations and commentaries as possible in a lifelong, systematic way, so this approach works for me. Of course, the thrust of any trek through the Word of God is to hear from the primary Author of the original scriptures and not the notes and commentary on it by others. Still, it doesn’t hurt to hear from both!

In January 2014 I started reading through The Apologetics Study Bible both because (1) it focused on defending the Christian faith with its supplemental reading, and (2) because I had never read completely the translation it uses – the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It took me a few weeks longer to complete it than planned, spilling over into 2015, but I won’t tell anyone if you won’t. It was definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

Like most study Bibles, there are ample footnotes on nearly every page, worthwhile introductions to the books, helpful reference materials in the back, plus those articles and short inserts scattered throughout the text that address a host of questions, issues, interpretations, and ways in which some religions try to twist the meanings of certain passages to stray from historic, biblical teaching. I found these brief “Twisted Scripture” segments to be among the most helpful features because they specify how particular groups misinterpret certain passages, and they are located right by the verses in question, easily standing out visually on the page.

While I have certainly benefited from study Bibles that are largely the effort of a single person (e.g., The MacArthur Study Bible or The Evidence Bible), I generally prefer editions that contain the thoughts and writings of many contributors as is the case with The Apologetics Study Bible with its many dozens of contributors. Of course, that method lends itself to potential inconsistency in the type and quality of notes provided. This isn’t a major concern, though, as there were only one or two books where I found the notes to be very repetitious and, frankly, frustrating to read after a few chapters.

For example, after completing the Old Testament book of Numbers, I wrote the following note in it:

“The notes in Numbers are very frustrating to read. The writer correctly rejects the idea that it is a composite of various priestly, Yahwist, and Elohist sources. However, instead of addressing that point once in the introduction or in an article about it, he constantly references it in the notes. There is no value in filling notes repeatedly with “some think such and such, but I disagree.” Tell us more about what is true about the text – not what is not true about it.”

Fortunately, such objections were limited to no more than a couple of books, so the objections shouldn’t and wouldn’t keep me from heartily recommending the edition to anyone interested.

At just over 2000 pages, it isn’t an overwhelming size compared to some other study Bibles on the market, so it tends to be a quicker read than, for example, the ESV Study Bible at more than 2,700 pages which is what I read through over 2012-2013.

With this being my first time reading the Holman Christian Standard Bible, I found it an enjoyable, readable, understandable translation that seeks to be true to the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. Like any translation, it sounds a bit odd at times when the wording is very different than what I may have grown up memorizing or hearing frequently, but that is to be expected and is not at all a fault. I consider the HCSB a worthy translation for use, although I drift more toward the English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) as my go-to translations.

Overall, I can heartily recommend The Apologetics Study Bible as a valuable resource for helping the reader build up a strong, rational defense for the faith. After all, that is what Christian apologetics is all about. It is well worth the time to read every word of it and to keep it handy, especially for its plentiful articles and helpful resources in addition to the biblical text. It may not be the study Bible you choose to be your primary, permanent Bible to carry to church, but it deserves a place within arm’s reach as you explore the meaning of various texts.

What’s next for me? I’ll tackle The Reformation Study Bible the remainder of this year. About a year from now, I should be sharing with you about that experience.

What about you? What version/translation/edition of the Bible are you reading now? Which have you found most helpful?

Dont-Suck-the-Life-Out-of-LifeFor the last couple of years I’ve been very public with my annual personal goals, including progress reports along the way as to how successful (or not) I am in achieving them. I’m not going to run down item by item the goal list from last year. Suffice it to say that I met or exceeded some and didn’t achieve others. If you’re curious about what they were, you’ll find posts about them here, here, here, and here. Instead, I want to write today about the overall lesson learned from 2014 that relates significantly to the goal effort. Here it is:

Don’t be so goal oriented that you suck the life out of life.

My first time for setting a long list of personal goals related to body, mind and spirit was in 2013. It went really well, so it’s no surprise I did it again in 2014. But we weren’t many months into the year before I felt overwhelmed. All of the goals were in addition to my work and volunteer efforts, and it was simply exhausting to try to stay up with all of them. I needed more rest, more sleep, more down time not focused on a never-ending to-do list.

While I made a mid-year correction and lowered the bar on some goals, that still wasn’t enough to put me at ease. I still wasn’t getting enough sleep. I ended the last few months of the year choosing a couple of the goals most meaningful and worked on them while letting the others go. My body, mind and spirit needed the break. It was the right thing to do. I had put so much emphasis on a long, ambitious list of what I wanted to get done that I had succeeded in sucking the life out of life. Surely that wasn’t good for me or anyone else around me.

So I’m determined in 2015 to take a different approach to goals for the year. There will be no long list of goals for body, mind and spirit. I’ll still continue the personal behaviors that have by now become important regular habits (getting in 10,000 steps per day 3 days per week, reading through the Bible in a version or study edition different than one I’ve read before, and spending time weekly on 100 Bible memory verses). But the only other goals will be very simple – getting more sleep daily than I averaged in 2014 (trying for 7.5 instead of 6.5 hours nightly), finishing the books I intended to read last year but didn’t complete, and being more intentional about serving my church and others rather than setting self-focused goals.

I recall a sermon by my former Associate Pastor Kris Billiter from January 2014 when he suggested we set other-oriented goals rather than self-focused ones. That message stuck with me throughout 2014, so I’m taking it to heart. I want to be a better person – not just someone who does a lot of stuff. Drastically reducing self-focused goals and saying “yes” to opportunities to serve others while still reserving enough time for adequate rest will be my basic plan.

I’ve always been a task-oriented person. Plans and goals and checklists fit me well. That isn’t the case with all people. But there is a point where too many to-do items just suck the life out of life. I reached that point in 2014 and have no intention of doing so this year. In fact, I’ve already scheduled one day per week for vacation every week from January through March, plus a full week off in February for the heck of it. I’m writing this post on the first of those restful, stay-at-home days where I slept late, read, played with the dog, spent a couple hours at church helping with our youth program, and now am finishing a blog post.

2015 is off to a good start. You’re welcome to hold me accountable if you like. I hope your year is both productive and meaningful at a deeper, personal, more satisfying level than mere checklists can guarantee.

Don’t suck the life out of life. It’s too precious.

Brain<rant>

Buzzwords always abound in businesses. Each year sees new ones come and (if we are lucky) a few worn ones disappear. After all, Buzzword Bingo exists for a reason! Some of the most annoying to me are using verbs as nouns such as in “That’s a good ask.” Why not use the word “question” or “request” as the correct noun in that situation instead of misusing the word “ask”? Who knows how many years I’ve endured hearing people tell someone to “reach out” to someone at work when a simple “contact” will do the trick. You start “reaching out” to me at work and I’m calling HR on you!

So pardon me for a few paragraphs while I go on a somewhat controlled rant about a currently popular phrase that is so grossly overused and abused I feel I must take a stand. The term is “thought leader” or “thought leadership.”

The phrase isn’t new, of course, but it has become so commonly misused that the phrase is, to me, largely meaningless any more. Here are my issues with it and with how it is used:

1. Too many companies and individuals set a goal of becoming a thought leader in some field. They want to start blogging or publishing or public speaking or some combination of public activities with the explicit hope of being considered a thought leader. This seems completely backward to me. Their mistaken focus seems to be on the accolades and reputation they hope to earn because of their actions rather than the quality of the actions and benefit to others that comes as a result of their work. I’ve even heard the ridiculous discussion of whether or not the content for such “thought leadership” articles should be original or contracted out to an agency! What!? If you don’t have the ability to think your own thoughts enough to get them in writing, then you aren’t a thought leader even in your own company (maybe even in your own head), much less in any industry.

2. Any entity that refers to itself as a thought leader isn’t one. If I see “thought leader” in your Twitter or LinkedIn profile, I will not follow or connect with you. I do not care what you have to say because my first impression is that you are simply pompous and full of yourself. On the other hand, if it is others who are calling you a thought leader, then perhaps I’ll be impressed with their assessments and pay attention to what you say, but not if you are the one using it to describe yourself. Humility is a good thing. Learn it.

3. Companies cannot produce thought leaders en masse. For example, a colleague and I have been exploring employee advocacy software options over recent weeks. I can’t count how many times sales reps from the companies have tried to sell their products on the notion that we are helping employee advocates of our company become thought leaders through the use of it. Well, sorry again, but when the advocacy program largely depends on retweeting and reposting content we suggest with perhaps minor personal edits, that doesn’t make anyone a thought leader. Since when does retweeting others make anyone a thought leader? And since when did a single company have thousands of thought leaders as employees? Come on, people. Get real.

Here is my point: “Thought leader” is a title earned and bestowed by others as a result of unique, innovative, exemplary work over time. It is not a goal that anyone concerned with actually doing good work will waste time pursuing. It is never a term you should use for yourself.

Should you be so fortunate as to have others consider you a thought leader and refer to you that way, then accept their compliment with humility, be grateful that you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on others, and go on about the business of doing your very best work. History and others are far more likely to accurately describe you, your work, and its impact than you will yourself.

So go out there and do your best every single day. Only be concerned with that. Let others decide who they consider thought leaders to be. Don’t waste your time (or mine) associating the term with yourself. That’s for others to decide after you’ve earned it.

</rant>

thankitforwardWhen my professional colleagues at The Community Roundtable started posting their “Thank It Forward” posts recently, thereby recognizing three specific people or groups that have made a difference in their lives this year, I knew I wanted to do the same. So it’s taken me a while to think through it and come up with this post. My three who have had the greatest impact on me this year are from all parts of my life, so it’s an unlikely trio, but a meaningful one to me.

The first person I want to thank for his impact on me this year is my new pastor, Mark Williams. I cannot adequately express how thrilled I am to have this man as my pastor. He is a kind, loving, gracious soul who is profoundly committed to proclaiming the Word of God and calling others to a life of faithful service to Christ. He is wise far beyond his 31 years with a wisdom that can only come from the Spirit of God within. When he preaches, you know you are hearing the truth of the gospel. He is not out to impress others or dictate to others or to draw attention to himself. He is a servant of his Lord and an incredibly gifted and faithful proclaimer of truth.

It is important to me that I deeply respect my pastor. Life has been a bit out of whack in times past when there has been some tension between a pastor and me. That’s not a good situation and not one I care to repeat. I respect the role of pastor and want the relationship to reflect that respect. Mark makes it easy for me to do that because we are united around a common purpose and cause and desire. I would be quite content to learn from this man for the rest of my days on this earth. He makes me want to be a better person in general and a better Christian in particular. I know my own relationship with Christ ought to produce those same desires and it does, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have a key person in the flesh that draws you in that direction as well. I thank God for Mark Williams and look forward to his continued influence on me, our church and our community.

The second person I want to thank is my bride of 35.5 years, Linda. I don’t know anyone who works as hard as she does. While her role as kitchen hostess at church and self-employed caterer is officially part-time, she sure does seem to be going at one or the other full-time. And if she isn’t absorbed in those activities, she’s gardening or doing yard work or something else – anything but resting (which she really ought to do more of). Anyone who knows us can tell you how different we are. That has always been the case. In fact, we lost some college “friends” when we got engaged in 1978 for that very reason. They worried that we were so different that it would never work for us to be married and they simply could not and would not give their blessing to it. Well, 35.5 years later, I would beg to differ with their assessment. That doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye or have no issues, but we’ve learned to keep the main things the main things and not elevate minor differences to a loftier level of attention than they deserve.

I want to thank Linda for loving me all these years, for continuing to do the less-than-glamorous things that come with managing a home and family, for forgiving me when I have been self-absorbed or downright thoughtless or mean or stupid, for being an absolute rock of faithfulness and consistency for the entire time I have known her from my sophomore year of college through the present, and for being the mother of our two sons and grandmother to the newest generation of Rosses. I cannot imagine life without her, and I am thankful now and forever for her.

The third person I want to call out in my #thankitforward this year is my manager at Humana, Lewis Bertolucci. Lewis took a chance in late 2011 by adding me to his Enterprise Social Media team at work when there were not originally plans to have that team own the internal social media function I manage so much as the external, customer-focused media. Lewis is a remarkable person who knows more about the field than I ever will. He can’t possibly sleep much and still juggle all the things he has his hands in. It’s no wonder he was included in a recent list of the top 100 digital marketing experts. Don’t even think about trying to match his Klout score!

There are so many things I appreciate about Lewis as my manager. He is open and honest and I can discuss whatever I need to discuss with him. He trusts me to do my work and has no inclination to micromanage me or others. He is funny and creative and will blindside you with a funny photoshopped picture or JibJab video and seems to have funny animated GIFs ready for all occasions to throw into online discussions. He keeps his cool in the midst of what I know are very stressful, demanding days at work. He thinks of others more than he thinks of himself. He can write out the best, thoughtful, reasoned response to situations where others would be tempted to respond quickly and emotionally. He gives wise counsel that others (including me) would do well to heed. He is supportive and encouraging to his team. And as is shown by the expanded role he offered me in August this year, he is eager to see those he supervises grow into their potential, even when that means they leave the team for other roles as some did in 2013. Like my pastor mentioned above who is in his early 30s, Lewis is also wise beyond his years and has earned the deep respect I have for him as a person and as a manager. I am fortunate to have him and hope to learn from him for many years to come.

So there you have the three people from different areas of my life who I am most thankful for in 2014.

I won’t end this post, though, without also recognizing the one professional organization that has also been very significant for me this year as well – The Community Roundtable. I have enjoyed being a member of this organization of online community professionals for several years, but this year the connection stepped up a notch when they graciously agreed to take over the reins of the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat which I started in 2013. They are doing a great job with the chat and will continue to innovate and do things with it that I as an individual could never do. I am deeply appreciative of their willingness to do this. I know the work involved in making it successful and worthwhile week after week. It is no small task. Thank you, Hillary Boucher, Rachel Happe, Shannon Abram, Jim Storer and all the wonderful people at TheCR! You do amazing work that is very much appreciated by many.

What about you? For whom would you #thankitforward for their impact on you in 2014?